Vatican City, Dec 20, 2016 / 12:25 pm (CNA/Vatican Insider).- Pope Francis has officially granted clemency to Spanish priest Msgr. Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda, who had already served half of his 18-month jail sentence for leaking confidential Vatican documents. The Vatican announced Dec. 20 that the Pope had given Msgr. Vallejo Balda the "benefit of conditional release" and that the priest will now fall under the jurisdiction of his home diocese of Astorga, Spain.

In July of this year, after an eight-month trial weighing the guilt of five individuals in the leaking and disseminating of confidential financial documents, the Vatican reached a verdict, sentencing a Vatican official and a laywoman for the crime. The defendants in question were Msgr. Vallejo Balda, Italian PR woman Francesca Chaouqui, Nicola Maio (Vallejo’s secretary), and journalists Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi.

On July 7, Msgr. Vallejo was found guilty of leaking the documents and sentenced to 18 months in prison. After his initial arrest Nov. 2, 2015, he was transferred to the Vatican’s Collegio dei Penitenzieri, a residence run by Conventional Franciscans, on house arrest. However, after violating the terms, he was moved back to the cells of the Vatican Gendarme, before eventually returning to the Collegio dei Penitenzieri. Chaouqui was found guilty of conspiring in the crime, but was not charged with the actual leak of the documents given a lack of evidence.

Both Msgr. Vallejo and Chaouqui are former members of the Commission for Reference on the Organization of the Economic Administrative Structure of the Holy See (COSEA). The commission was established by the Pope July 18, 2013, as part of his plan to reform the Vatican’s finances, and was dissolved after completing its mandate. They were arrested Nov. 2, 2015, in relation to the theft and dissemination of the documents. Chaouqui was released after spending one night in jail in exchange for her cooperation with investigations, while Msgr. Vallejo remained in custody.

After a Nov. 6 Mass celebrated for prisoners in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis in his Angelus address appealed for better prison conditions and asked that as part of the Jubilee of Mercy, competent global authorities would consider granting clemency to eligible inmates. “I would like to make an appeal for better conditions in prison life, so that the human dignity of the detained is fully respected,” the Pope said Nov. 6.

He emphasized the importance of the need for a criminal justice “which isn’t just punitive, but open to hope and the re-insertion of the offender into society.” In response to this appeal made by the Pope for governments to grant clemency to prisoners, Raoul Castro released 787 prisoners in Cuba last month.